(Marty) #1

Alzheimer’s Attack

on the Brain May

Vary with Race
A new study finds African-Ameri-
cans with dementia have less
buildup of certain toxic proteins in
their brains than do whites

RESEARCH ON Alzheimer’s has
mainly focused on Caucasians. New
findings, however, suggest the
disease process that leads to
dementia may differ in Afri-
can-Americans. According to a
study published in January in JAMA
Neurology, the brains of Afri-
can-Americans diagnosed with
Alzheimer’s have less buildup of a
protein called tau—one of the two
hallmark proteins that characterize
the disease.
It is not clear why African-Ameri-
cans would have less tau while still
suffering from Alzheimer’s, says
neurologist John Morris, who led the
research. But the finding is signifi-
cant because it means the medical
community needs to exercise
caution when defining Alzheimer’s
by measures of tau buildup alone.

The study also suggests race might
affect other aspects of the disease’s
pathology, says Morris, who directs
the Knight Alzheimer Disease
Research Center at Washington
University in Saint Louis. “The study
of Alzheimer’s disease, which really
began formally in the United States

in the mid-1980s, has largely been
of white people,” he notes. “The U.S.
in general and the older adult
portion of the U.S. population is
increasingly diverse, so we really do
need to study all populations to try
to understand the disease and its

For the moment, the differences
detected in the disease’s pathology
will not change existing treatment
protocols, which do not yet look at
certain aberrant proteins to make a
diagnosis. Physicians today diag-
nose Alzheimer’s largely based on a
patient’s neuropsychological charac- GETTY IMAGES


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